ATLANTA (AP) — Many people who visit Atlanta for the hundreds of conventions the city hosts each year never make it out of the few blocks around their hotels. But the city has much more to offer, and some attractions are even free.
Atlanta is a diverse, cosmopolitan city that is home to major corporations' headquarters, world-class cultural institutions and restaurants helmed by award-winning chefs. It has a rich cultural and political history, plus parks and trails to keep outdoor enthusiasts busy during the many months of the year when Atlanta's latitude makes it pleasant to be outside. Here are five free things to do and see on your next trip to Atlanta.
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. HISTORIC SITE
The historic site is operated by the National Park Service. A film and an exhibition of photos, text and video clips in the visitor's center give a comprehensive overview of the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr.'s leadership role. Up the street is the home where King was born. Tours of the birth home are free but must be reserved in person the day of the tour at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. The crypts of King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, sit in the middle of a reflecting pool outside The King Center. A few steps away, visitors can walk through Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King and his father served as pastors.
SWEET AUBURN CURB MARKET
Nearby lies the Sweet Auburn Historic District, which was a major economic, cultural and political center for African-American life for the first half of the 20th century, before a major highway bisected the neighborhood and decades of urban decline followed. Originally known as the Municipal Market, the Sweet Auburn Curb Market is now an urban farmers market that provides a lively atmosphere for browsing and grabbing lunch. Stalls run by butchers feature pigs' ears and feet, oxtails and many other animal parts and cuts of meat stacked neatly in trays behind glass. Produce vendors offer heaping stacks of collard greens, turnips and other seasonal produce. Prepared food stands offer a wide variety of lunch options, but it's fun to browse whether or not you buy.
The Atlanta BeltLine is a redevelopment project that aims to turn an old 22-mile (35-kilometer) railroad corridor that rings the city's in-town neighborhoods into a network of trails, parks, affordable housing and, eventually, transit. So far, only the 2.2-mile (3.5-kilometer) Eastside Trail has opened, with skyline views and regularly changing public art installations providing added scenery for those who walk, bike and jog along the path.
Sitting at one end of the BeltLine's completed Eastside Trail is Piedmont Park. Like New York's Central Park, the nearly 200-acre (80-hectare) green space in Midtown gives Atlanta residents and visitors a tranquil setting to picnic, play games, walk their dogs and relax in the meadow or along the shores of Lake Clara Meer. The park also hosts major city events, like the Dogwood Festival in April and the Music Midtown festival in September, and the finish line of the annual 10-kilometer Fourth of July Peachtree Road Race.
The graves of dozens of Atlanta mayors and six Georgia governors, as well as the rich and poor of different races and different religions dot the gentle hills of Oakland Cemetery. Some of the most famous residents are "Gone With the Wind" author Margaret Mitchell and golf legend Bobby Jones, as well as rows and rows of Confederate soldiers. Despite the surrounding busy streets and the clanking and beeping from the adjacent freight rail terminal, the 48-acre (19.4-hectare) cemetery feels calm and peaceful. Self-guided tours are free whenever the cemetery is open.
<a href="http://www.cheapflights.com" target="_hplink">Cheapflights.com</a> kicks off its list of fun freebies to look for while traveling with free games. From Amsterdam’s Sarphatipark to London’s SoHo Square to New York’s Bryant Park, ping pong is in the air. Outdoor tables are actually surprisingly common in many parts of the world. There are maps to ping pong locales around <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-berlin/" target="_hplink">Berlin</a> and <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-london/" target="_hplink">London</a>. There is an orange table that pops up in spots throughout the city of Darwin, Australia, along with paddles and balls to borrow for a match. Bryant Park also offers all the accessories, as well as the ability to sign up for a time. In other places, you may need to bring your own gear and wait your turn. If ping pong isn’t your game, keep an eye out for bocce ball and beach volleyball ball courts — other fun, social and free ways to get to know the locals. Or, for a more mental challenge, try places like the Chess & Checkers House in New York’s Central Park, where you can sit down for a game of backgammon, dominos or, of course, chess or checkers, or the Chess Park in Santa Monica, Calif., where you can even play with giant pieces.
Free bike rides
Bike sharing programs have gone universal, with cities around the globe offering thousands of bikes for rent for relatively small fees. They make for a fast, affordable and eco-friendly way to get around. Even better, in some major cities, including <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-washington/" target="_hplink">Washington, D.C.</a>, <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-montreal/" target="_hplink">Montreal </a>and <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-paris/" target="_hplink">Paris</a>, you don’t pay for the first 30 to 60 minutes of a ride. You will have to sign up for the service, but, if you just want a quick zip around town, you can have it for free. In the U.S., you may find smaller towns, like Salem, Mass., and Simsbury, Conn., that have completely free bike shares while many college communities offer free rides as well. Finally, keep an eye out around Earth Day and other local green celebrations as they can translate into free bike days!
Free new hair style
Imagine coming back from a trip to one of the world’s fashion capitals with a new look. Now, imagine doing that for free! Whether you are headed to Paris, <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-new-york/" target="_hplink">New York</a>, London or <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-milan/" target="_hplink">Milan</a>, if you have a flexible schedule and an adventurous spirit, you can register yourself as a “model” for hair dressers-in-training at top salons. Some charge a supplies fee, especially for color, but many offer completely free cuts and styling if you call ahead and can fit into their training schedule. Just remember instructors are looking to challenge these stylists, so don’t go in asking for a simple trim.
Free boat tours
Want one of the best views of the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan? How about a river boat trip across the mighty Mississippi River or along the historic Savannah, Ga., waterfront? These are just some of the scenic spots where free water shuttles, designed for commuters and to cut down on car traffic, also happen to serve as great sightseeing options. The fleet of Staten Island Ferries in New York makes the five-mile, 25-minute trip right past Ellis Island and Lady Liberty more than 35,000 times a year. The Algiers Ferry in <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-new-orleans/" target="_hplink">New Orleans</a> leaves from the foot of Canal Street and drops you on the “West Bank,” providing a view of New Orleans as it wraps around the river bend that gives the Crescent City its nickname. The four Savannah Belles Ferries, named for notable women from the city’s past, are a practical way to get from one historic point to another or just to connect with the proud shipping and maritime tradition of this almost-300-year-old port.
Free ice skating
They say the best way to enjoy winter is to embrace the fun of cold-weather sports. However, skiing and snowboarding can be budget-busting activities. Skating, on the other hand, is a great way to get in the spirit of the season and get some exercise. And, while it can cost some coin in touristy spots like New York’s Rockefeller Center or Paris’s Eiffel Tower rink, it is also often free in other places. To steer clear of rental fees, you should bring your own gear, which is worth the hassle if you are heading to real skating destinations like <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-ottawa/" target="_hplink">Ottawa</a>, with its Rideau Canal that provides close to five miles of free ice for your enjoyment (and a handy way to get around town). Stockholm offers the choice of a spin right in the center of town at the Kungstradgarden ice rink, or a 20-minute trip out to Edsviken for a more one-with-nature experience. If you master the trail skating at Edsviken, look for other free “tour skating” tracks throughout Scandinavia, especially Finland. And, if you are headed to ice-deprived spots, look for inline skating fun like the weekly Tuesday evening rolling party in Tel Aviv, where hundreds roller blade on a 13-mile route passing numerous hot spots around town.
Free splash parks
If getting outside is the key to embracing winter, getting wet is the key to enjoying summer. Fortunately, more and more cities and towns are opening free splash parks and pads or even just making fountains designed with summer cooling in mind. Look for such water features from <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-boston/" target="_hplink">Boston</a>’s Greenway, where an elevated highway has been replaced by play spaces for all ages, to Theater Square in Krasnodar, Russia, where a giant splash fountain opened in September 2011 shoots jets of water 82 feet into the air, accompanied by a classical music score. Canada may be the most dedicated to summer splashing. <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-toronto/" target="_hplink">Toronto</a> has a network of more than 100 wading pools and splash pads all open for free in the summer, including a 600-jet water play area open 24 hours a day in the middle of downtown’s Dundas Square.
If you plan ahead and are traveling to the right city, you may be able to score free tickets to TV show tapings. Late-night shows, talk shows and game shows all film before live studio audiences. A quick online search will tell you when, where and how to get tickets. However, not every show requires a ticket — or even going inside. With old traditions and attempts to win fans, free entertainment can be just around the corner in many destinations. Prime example: The changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace in <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-london/" target="_hplink">London</a> and at Parliament Hill in <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-ottawa/" target="_hplink">Ottawa</a> are (free-to-watch) time-honored traditions and symbols of royal pageantry that draw crowds on a daily basis. The same can be said of the 11 a.m. “chiming” of the Glockenspiel in Munich. For more than 100 years, when this clock strikes that hour, a 12-15 minute show begins with a two-part story reenacted by 32 life-sized figures. The figurines even joust and do a dance to ward off the plague. In <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-las-vegas/" target="_hplink">Las Vegas</a>, if the bright lights aren’t enough to entertain you once you’ve blown your budget at the casino, you can always catch the free (and recently updated) daily pirate sea battle, “Sirens of TI,” which takes place in front of the Treasure Island hotel. Just note, it is being sidelined briefly this fall for a construction project but is scheduled to reopen in time for New Year’s Eve.
The ultimate in fun and free crowd-pleasing events, parades spring up year round and worldwide. Obvious times to look for parades include Carnival/Mardi Gras, New Year’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day. However, you don’t have to be in Rio, Pasadena or <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-new-york/" target="_hplink">New York City</a> for one of these headline events to find a rolling good time. Homecoming football weekends in the fall, Gay Pride events in June, Saints Days in Italian neighborhoods, Greek Independence Day in March, Chinese New Year, whenever a local sports team wins a championship…these are all times to listen for a marching band or investigate if a street is being blocked off. If you love a parade, pick up a local paper and read up for such events or simply follow any group of people waving flags and homemade signs or carrying coolers.
Free food or drink
In many corners of the world, if you walk into a bar or restaurant around 5 p.m. local time, odds are you can find free food or drinks. The Italian custom of Aperitivo calls for buffets full of free and delicious food for the enjoyment of anyone buying one drink (or more). In the U.S., depending on local laws, you may find free drinks or discounted drinks and free food at happy hour. If you are in wine country, do your research in advance to find out which tasting rooms offer samples for free. Wine and liquor stores (and even grocery stores) also often have regular tastings. You might even stumble into a cooking demo or sample platter to complement your wine if you are at a fancy grocery store. And don’t forget local food producers as a source of free eats. A fine example: Stop by any of the three Blue Diamond Growers stores in Northern California to taste their creative line-up of almonds and almond products. Or, browse a local growers’ market, like the Columbia Road flower market in <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-london/" target="_hplink">London</a>’s East End, both for the entertainment and occasional free snack.
Free sporting events
From the <a href="http://www.cheapflights.com/flights-to-hong-kong/" target="_hplink">Hong Kong</a> Dragon Boat Festival to the many stages of the Tour de France to a marathon in any major city, excitement and entertainment are yours for the taking for nothing more than the cost of being in a throng of spectators. If that kind of crowd isn’t for you, then pay attention to the seasons and follow the lesser known sports or those in training. Fall is rowing season across the U.S., and regattas are easy and fun to watch, whether you just happen upon a race or settle in for a day on the river bank. When spring rolls around, it’s training time for college football teams and many have a spring inter-squad game that is fun, informal and free. Many National Football League teams even roll out the red carpet for fans during summer training camp with open practices.